Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Translator

Last night was the premiere of my translation (via subtitles) of Finito, by István Tasnádi, at the massive Orkeny Szinhaz in downtown Budapest.

That's right, I finally got paid for doing some dramatic writing. This was a commission for the Budapest International Contemporary Drama Festival.

Not that I know enough Hungarian to make up my own sentences, let alone translate a full-length play. I was half of a translation team. Here’s how it happened. Last summer, my friend Patricia took a playwriting workshop with Tasnádi at a writer’s colony on Lake Balaton. Tasnádi asked Patricia to take a crack at translating his play for the Contemporary Drama Festival. However, it just so happened that his play was

1. A “pseudo-Moliere” play written in rhyming iambic pentameter
2. Full of Hungarian TV slang, rural dialect, literary references, elevated poetry and (of course) tons and tons of puns.

In other words, a little bit hard to translate. As a matter of fact, Tasnádi had already rejected about 10 translators’ efforts. Since this was a task that would intimidate even most native speakers (it sure as shit intimidated me), Patricia asked me to work with her. She translated from Hungarian into prose English, explained the characters and cultural references and idioms to me, and I then converted the prose into slangy rhyming iambics. We did a two-page sample and, miracle of miracles, we got accepted!

The plot, by the way, is roughly as follows: In rural Hungary, a depressed ex-pig sticker named Gáspár is being harassed by his sexually frustrated wife. Gáspár threatens to hang himself in his outhouse (are you laughing yet?). His family calls in the town’s Mayor to resolve the situation, but the Mayor decides to exploit Gáspár’s suicide to publicize his town’s financial crisis. Soon more and more outsiders are getting in on the act. The media descends on the town. A corrupt police negotiator tries to buy Gáspár’s corpse as part of a shady mafia transaction. The head of the New Narrative Union of Hungary decides to transform Gáspár into a poet and present his death as a protest against escalating taxes on intellectual products. And a fading teen pop star, who fears her 15 minutes of fame are up, claims that Gáspár is killing himself for the love of her. Finally the biggest TV show in Hungary joins the fun. Suddenly Gáspár is getting huge bucks to knock himself off on live national television. I suppose I won’t spoil the ending in case anyone out there wants to read it, but let’s just say there is a truly Molieresque ending.

Unfortunately we had just under a month to translate the whole thing—80 pages of freaking verse. Needless to say, I basically didn’t sleep. This was honestly the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything. Just to reach the end of page 80, I had to work about 16 hours a day with no socializing, no distractions, no procrastination, not even lunch. (Actually that's not true, Rick made me lunch). Holy fuck.

But we did it, and we even managed to figure out how to make subtitles for the performance in power point. And last night, Rick and our friends Dylan, Michelle, Matt, and Laci got to see it in the theater. I've never presented work in such a gorgeous theater. It has a balcony and pro ushers in matching outfits! It has marble snack bars! Sold out, a great crowd…

Plus the chance to see my name, Sarah Gansher (why can no one say my name correctly, ever?) in the program. If anyone wants to read a rhyming verse comedy about a dude who tries to hang himself in an outhouse, let me know!


plankface said...

WOW. I would be more impressed, but if there is anyone I expect to be capable of this sort of thing, it is Yourself, the original Rat in the Basket. Amazing stuff. You are awesome!

Ganch said...

Awwwwwww!!!! Em-i-ree!
Apologies for waiting so long to put this comment up, my stupid account didn't let me know I had a comment and I just saw it. I didn't think anyone was reading this anymore!